I still listen to the radio when I’m driving our kid car. So yip, this is me over here, listening to the radio while cruising (and no, not internet radio).
The other morning, I wasn’t really paying attention (or I couldn’t hear, because I have children), but I caught the end of what seemed like a national mental health campaign. So I tried to listen in. I heard something to the effect of #notalone or no one’s alone at Christmas. The commercial asked you to make a video and use the hashtag (whether it’s this one or another, sorry, again, lots of kids in the car …) to share your experience for how to keep positive mental health over the holidays.
I’m not one to miss out on a trend, especially when it’s near and dear to my heart as an autoimmune encephalitis survivor and person with mental health issues (i.e. a human).
So here’s my list, but don’t worry if you can’t hear right now because your kids are running through the house wildly looking for their Elf. I’m writing it so everyone can hear (i.e. see).
10. Set boundaries. I’ve learned that setting firm boundaries on what I can accomplish, purchase, donate, and host is paramount. I always prioritize my family and my sleep and wellness. The rest can come or go. Stopping myself from being my former whirlwind self is still hard for me, but I’ve gotten better. I have to stick to my limitations whether it’s April 25 or December 25. Practice saying no. You can do it, I swear.
9. Foster friendships. When I get down, I know what I need: laughs and discussions with friends. I then make time for a coffee, lunch, or Diet Coke date. It always helps. I try for in person, but Zoom, and the phone work, too. If you’re feeling lonely and sad, call a friend! And if you know someone who doesn’t have that luxury, check in on them and say hello. Or send a card. Stamps are cheap, but the intent feels expensive!
8. Stay busy, but not too busy. This is my trick to life, but feels extra hard during the months of November and December, because everyone wants/needs something before the new year. But … If it’s fun. If it brings you joy. If it’s helping or serving others. If it doesn’t feel taxing. Go for it. There are so many places in need - if your busy hands are happy hands - bagging food, serving food, sorting socks, and ringing a bell may be the cure for what ails you. Feeling productive and helpful does wonders for my mental health.
7. Find your people and ask for or give help. If you feel overwhelmed, overspent, afraid, or lonely, there are places to help. In Bismarck, there are welcoming and inclusive churches, with people who can help and listen. They may even have a free and open holiday program where you could go and be amongst others. I’m Catholic. Catholics believe that Jesus is always present in the church. Stop in and take a minute to think, pray, or meditate. If you’re in need, find an organization and ask for help. If you are lonely and down, but capable, find an organization that offers help to others. There is no shame in admitting that you need a hand anytime, much less during the holidays. And giving when you can helps make sure that others don’t feel alone.
6. Keep your routines. Take your medication, make your spin class, get home for your family dinner, keep your counseling/doctor appointments, and manage your schedule. Dumping all your work and commitments to only obsess about the holidays will lead to burnout, malaise, and a meltdown, but trying to squeeze in every last thing will exhaust and tap you. I always keep up my life, even during the holidays. It’s a bonus if something special happens or I make time for a few fun events.
5. Maintain perspective and cultivate gratitude. For me, being grateful and maintaining perspective of the extreme sadness or profound losses others are burdened with helps keep me grounded. And through it all, cultivate gratitude. Write that thank you note and if you can, a check to a worthy cause. It’s harder for me to be angry about what I’m “lacking” when I’m so thankful for what I possess and what I can share.
4. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Movement of any kind is so helpful. And I’m not talking about a full-fledged competitive race that somehow my holiday social media always seems full of. I mean floor exercises while hiding from my family; a brisk walk outside; swimming at the Y (with or without all the extra kids and family in town); lifting arm weights; leg lifts while standing in line for eggnog; exercise ball waiting for dinner to cook; mall walking with family; putting on boxing gloves to move and blow off steam. Movement always resets my mood!
3. Enjoy the food and drink. I cut corners on meh things and enjoy some holiday splurges. I’ve also opted to reduce my scale usage. Normal fluctuation happens and if I get too focused on it, I’ll get upset. So I’m keeping a healthy mindset, trying for healthy decisions balanced with some fun, and letting it go through the new year. (I also ate a lot of chocolate covered caramel corn yesterday. A lot.)
2. Get outside! I live in Bismarck, North Dakota. Usually, it’s quite cold this time of year. As long as I dress for it, I can get some fresh air in any temperature. If you live in a warm climate, lucky you. My mental health is 100% benefitted by fresh air. It’s a bonus if I take some steps.
1. Set reasonable expectations. Your family, just like mine, is not perfect. Love them. No matter how much you try and plan, nothing looks like it does in the movies. That’s reality. Your kids may not wear exactly what you purchased for them to wear to church or Aunt Ruth’s. One child will not wear the matching pajamas for the family photo. Don’t yell. One adult will close his eyes or be in the bathroom in the epic extended family photo. Save it. You’ll probably forget a meat and cheese tray or cheeseball in the fridge. Go without. You’ll accidentally buy spiced nonalcoholic rum for the eggnog and wonder what’s the point. Drink it anyway. People will cry. Let them.
Make the most of whatever happens/doesn’t happen/could happen. Friends and family alike will annoy you. You’ll want to give up on the holidays. Don’t. Hop on social media to wish others a happy holiday or look at pictures of their families. Or don’t. Don’t log on to judge others’ experiences and compare your own. Don’t get sucked in. Stop.
Expect little and hold hope. Enjoy the holiday you have, not the one you expect. Hope that your holidays are fun and memorable.
Sometimes my mental health sucks and the holidays exacerbate it. If you get down on the holidays, I promise, you aren’t alone.
Do what you need to do to make sure you, and others, feel welcome and happy during this holiday season.
(But set boundaries. See point 10.)
"Step into Christmas
Let's join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission's free" ~ Step Into Christmas by Elton John
/ / The JM Stebbins blog is an autoimmune encephalitis blog from former lawyer and autoimmune encephalitis survivor, Jackie M. Stebbins.
Jackie M. Stebbins is also the author of Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim my Brain, a book about autoimmune encephalitis, resilience, hope, and survival. / /